The newly released Royal Life Saving National Drowning Report 2017 shows 291 people died as a result of drowning in Australia in the 2016/17 financial year – a 3% increase on the 282 drowning deaths in 2015/16.
In Victoria, 45 lives were lost in drowning deaths in 2016/17, including, tragically, four children under the age of five. Royal Life Saving estimates that there were an additional 685 non-fatal drowning incidents requiring hospitalisation in 2016/17. The majority of non-fatal incidents involve children and a number of them will require long-term medical assistance.
Just over one quarter (29%) of all drowning deaths in Victoria in 2016/17 occurred in lakes, dams and lagoons. Swimming and recreating was the leading activity prior to drowning, accounting for 29% of all drowning deaths and the highest number of deaths occurred in people aged 25‐34 years (18%).
“Australians love the water. It’s an important part of our culture. The sad fact that 291 people drowned last year is a sobering reminder to always actively supervise children around water, for people young and old to learn to swim and survive, to increase lifejacket use, reduce alcohol consumption around water and to always Respect the River,” says Dr Bernadette Matthews, LSV’s Principal Research Associate.
The nation’s inland waterways continue to be a leading location for fatal drowning, accounting for 97 deaths in 2016/17, almost one third of the total. This included 68 at rivers and creeks, and 29 at lakes and dams.
Drowning in children under five increased last year and nationally 29 children aged 0‐4 years drowned in 2016/17, a 38% increase on the previous year.
“We encourage the Victorian government to continue to work towards strengthening home pool fencing legislation to reduce both fatal and non‐fatal drowning incidents,” says Dr Matthews.
The Royal Life Saving National Drowning Report 2017 shows that Australians under estimate the dangers of the nation’s waterways, with drowning deaths occurring in inland waterways, along the coast and in swimming pools.
Rivers were the leading location for fatal drowning with 68 drowning deaths, followed by beaches (50 deaths), ocean / harbour locations (46 deaths) and swimming pools (44 deaths).
Reducing drowning in adults continues to pose a challenge to water safety organisations. The 25‐34 year age group accounted for the highest number of drowning deaths (43 deaths), followed by people aged 45‐54 years (40 deaths).
Royal Life Saving highlights the importance of safe aquatic behaviors including lifejacket use, reducing alcohol and drug consumption, checking weather forecasts and never swimming or boating alone.
In a result that will surprise many, 36 people 75 years and over died in drowning incidents last year, a 38% increase on the ten-year average.
“Royal Life Saving highlights the need for all senior Australians to be aware of the increased drowning risk associated with pre‐existing medical conditions, the impacts of medications and the dangers of swimming alone,” says Dr Bernadette Matthews.
The report also found there were 12 drowning deaths in children aged 5‐14 years and Justin Scarr, CEO Royal Life Saving says “Drowning in school aged children is the lowest of any age group, but no less tragic. Though many Australian children swim well, we still find too many kids can’t swim at all and have limited water safety knowledge. It’s important that State and Territory Governments, local councils, schools and parents all play their part.”
The report shows that drowning peaks during the summer months as more visitors choose to be at the beach or pool. Drowning in overseas tourists often captures much media attention and last year there were 20 overseas tourists who drowned, predominately from European (45%) and Asian (40%) countries, as well as 6 international students.
In 2008 the Australian Water Safety Council set an ambitious goal of reducing drowning by 50%. Interim analysis shows an overall 24% reduction in fatal drowning despite significant changes in the size and makeup of the Australian population.
“Reducing drowning by 24% is a significant achievement and means there are 90 people here today who otherwise would have drowned last year.” says RLSSA CEO Justin Scarr.
For more information, a range of drowning prevention resources or to download a copy of the Royal Life Saving National Drowning Report 2017 please visit the Royal Life Saving website.